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Nationals' skipper Dusty Baker has some catching up to do before 2016 campaign

Washington Nationals' skipper Dusty Baker was out of the game for two years before the 66-year-old manager was hired by the Nats this winter. He told reporters in December that he has some catching up to do as he prepares for the 2016 campaign.

Photo © Ed Chigliak/Federal Baseball
Photo © Ed Chigliak/Federal Baseball

Before the Washington Nationals hired Dusty Baker, the 66-year-old veteran of nineteen seasons as a player in the majors and twenty seasons on the bench as a major league manager was out of the game for two years following his dismissal at the end of the Cincinnati Reds' 2013 campaign.

Baker admitted, when he spoke to reporters at the Winter Meetings in Nashville in early December, that he had some catching up to do after being away from the game for two years, but he said it was probably the best situation he has stepped into in his second career in baseball.

"When I took over the Giants, we were next to last. When I took over the Cubs, we were last. When I took over the Reds, I think we were last also. This is the best team I've ever inherited..." -Dusty Baker on joining the Nationals

"Yeah, easily," Baker told reporters. "Because when I took over the Giants, we were next to last. When I took over the Cubs, we were last. When I took over the Reds, I think we were last also. This is the best team I've ever inherited, and I'm hoping that we can sign the players that we have now and add to it. Yeah, it's going to be a tough fight.

"I think, looking at things, our division and [the NL Central] are really, really tough. Very tough. So it's going to be a good year. It's going to be a good year for baseball."

While his new gig presents challenges, Baker said he didn't think they were as big as the challenges he faced in San Francisco, Chicago and Cincinnati.

"I don't see it as nearly as big a challenge as I had in the past," Baker said.

"Like I've said throughout my managerial career, I've been fortunate enough and forced to try to do more with less.

"Now I always said I wanted to have a situation where I could do more with more, so I'm looking forward to it. I think our players are looking forward to it.

"According to the reports I've gotten, the city's looking forward to it. And there are a lot of people that are -- at least they've told me that they're glad I'm back in baseball, and there are probably a few people, hopefully a few teams, that aren't glad that I'm back."

Baker was asked if he sees it as a must-win situation that he's stepping into, with the Nats coming off a disappointing 2015 campaign which followed division titles in two of the previous three years.

"I've been in a must-win situation all my life," Baker said. "That's how I look at it. Other than one time out of twenty that I had more than a two-year contract. With San Francisco, the whole time I had two-year contracts. That's like I was at least in a must-win every other year. So it's like it's no big thing to me.

"People can apply pressure. I'm not going to apply pressure to myself. I don't think I must win. I think I'm going to win."

"People can apply pressure. I'm not going to apply pressure to myself. I don't think I must win. I think I'm going to win." -Dusty Baker on whether it's a must-win situation in D.C.

Baker does, however, have to get to know the Nationals.

Though he said he watched baseball while away from the game, when he spoke to reporters at Nats WinterFest in December, Baker was asked if there were things he wanted to change or improve and he admitted that he didn't watch the Nats too much. He'll have help as he gets to know his new team, however.

"I'm depending on Mike Rizzo that was here. I followed the Nationals, but I didn't follow them that closely. I followed the Nationals because Matt Williams is one of my favorites. On the West Coast, our games, I was following the Giants, and the A's and the Dodgers on the West Coast, but the main thing that I saw is that we've got to be healthy.

"I don't know that it was anybody's fault, but you can try to get ahead of it, I think. The better shape you're in, the less chance you have to get hurt and the better chance you have to come back in a short period of time. That is the key."

Baker's right-hand man, Chris Speier, who'll serve as the Nationals' bench coach, told reporters last month that the Nats got one of the best people he's ever met in their new manager.

"Dusty is, number one, I just have to say, away from the baseball side, is probably one of the greatest human beings that I've ever met, the most giving man that I've been around in a long, long time," Speier said.

"A lot of things that he does off the field for a lot of different people go unnoticed. And he makes my position, again, it's easy. There are very little things that he demands. The other thing about him is he's a great delegator.

"He says, 'You have the defense,' and if he's got any questions about it he'll come to me, but he delegates really, really well. And he gives those that work for him responsibility and he holds it together, he's kind of the glue. So it's easy."

Winning the division again won't be easy, but Baker and the Nationals don't intend to make it easy for the competition either.

"The Mets got a good team," Baker said. "They've got a real good team. They've got excellent pitching. It's not only the Mets, like I said, I picked the [Miami] Marlins to go to the World Series last year. I thought they had the best team in the league last year."

"They've got Barry Bonds that's going to be directing their hitters. Giancarlo Stanton is healthy, hopefully. So this is going to be a very, very tough [division]."